It’s that time of year, word nerds. Suddenly, we’re all vowing to find a way to get our lives organised, and our schedules managed. We’ll be better in 2016. Sure we will. How can we not be, when there are eleventy-billion planners, diaries, organisational systems and gurus out there right this second, explaining how to take the wreck of our time, and make it something beautiful?
I have a confession to make: I really like planners. I love those ridiculous bastards. I’m still learning to effectively use them, but still, the love is there. But as Queen of ‘Been There, Done That’, let me assure you that it’s possible to spend far too much time and money trying to make it work for you, especially when so many of those systems are only a teensy bit different from the rest.
Every year, friends jump onto the planner bandwagon, spend a fortune on systems that *look* pretty, and then spend the rest of the year bitching and frantically searching for something that works for them. No moral high ground here- see my Queen status. So if you’re about to jump onto the organisational grenade, here are some things that’ll save you time, stress, and vodka.
Paper Vs Apps: the battle for souls
I tried planners on phone and iPad, and they didn’t do what I wanted. They were ugly, the colours sucked, and I stopped using them after a few days. A lot of the app planners have trial or lite versions to explore, so check them out before forking out for the full deal.
Great as apps can be, I’m talking paper here because that’s what I use, and that makes me useless in showcasing the wonders of tech. But overall, if you work better with tech, use it. Whatever works for you is perfect. Writers don’t get, nor do they deserve, cred for using paper.
What are you doing with this thing? No, really.
It’s a weird question, because clearly, you’re planning. Duh. But what are you planning? Is it work, life, a random blend of everything and everything? Before you skip merrily through your local office supply store (or, yknow, go online shopping like it’s an Olympic sport) figure out what you need to keep track of.
Figure out what you need, and what you don’t.
Take some time, and figure out what you need, what you want, and what you can tolerate. Think about it: if you’re the sort of note taker who writes big, and writes a lot, then space is an issue. If you hate the colour yellow (no? Just me?) and there’s an entire month designed in yellow, think about whether you’ll be gritting your teeth through that month, and whether it’s worth it.
What I need is space. Lots of it. I need my weekends to not be smooshed together into a tiny, pathetic little box. I need to colour code things so I can see at a glance what sort of things I’m doing. I need streamlined organisation, rather than rifling through multiple sections trying to keep track of everything.
What I want is pretty colours, fun designs, and cuteness overloads so that when I’m having a bad day, it’s like a random dose of cheerfulness.
What I can tolerate is basic, functional, black and white pages if it means meeting my needs (though I’ll add colour to it, anyway).
Figure out what makes it feel less like a chore
If you’re anything like me, this is vital. If it feels like a chore every time you crack open your planning system, generally, you’ll stop bothering to use it. If using colour makes you forget you’re doing something work-like, then do it. If adding stickers is your jam, have at. But figure out what’ll keep you opening up that planner, and do it.
MacGyver that SOB. Hard.
After a while, you realise that a lot of different planners have slightly different ring binding placements, ‘forcing’ you into buying only their brand. If you own washi tape, or any kind of decorative tape for that matter, then you can cannibalise other planner paper to include in your new one. You can get hand held punches pretty cheaply, and you can use a spare bit of the note paper as a template. Cover over the original holes with tape, punch out the new ones, and though it’s a thicker page than it was, you can still use it in your new planner.
If something doesn’t work, change it. Add elements if you need to, and rip out what you don’t use. Seriously, just because it came with the set doesn’t mean it’s useful to you, and you’re not obliged to keep it in there ‘just in case’.
Pretty is great. Practical is better
If you want to add colour, the usual suspects are pens, stickers, post-it notes, and decorative tapes. If you’re working with a smaller planner, stickers and tape will eat into your space, hard.
As for those beautiful 3D additions you see on Pinterest? Bah humbug. Do you know how hard it is to use the paper when you’ve added a 3D skull or some bling to show what a unique little snowflake you are? Besides, depending on how thin the paper is, glues can mess with your ability to write on the underside of that page, anyway.
Most of those beautifully decorated planners never actually leave a desk, by the way. You know why? Because all that added bling and bulky yet beautiful decoration just adds weight, and damages the planner and pages after a while.
Paper is heavier than your phone. Duh. But seriously, consider that carefully. Those bigger planners are beautiful. You can fit more information in them, you can decorate them more easily if you want to.
And they weigh about as much as a baby elephant after a day hanging off your shoulder in a bag. They also make choosing a bag harder, and the weight of the bag ends up damaging your clothes after a while if you’ve regularly got the bag on your shoulders for hours at a time (like, oh, say when you’re walking around a Con for three days as a reviewer). This is important to remember, because clothes and bags are expensive, but so are chiropractors.
I thought I could bypass this by having two planners: the big one, with all the info I’d need, and a small one to be thrown into my handbag to be with me wherever I go. I thought I was so smart. WRONG.
The problem with that system is that I needed to remember to move info between the two. I needed to set aside time for it. For some people, it’s not an issue, but I remembered to do it maybe twice in six months.
It did not go well.
It goes back to figuring out what works for you: adding extra work doesn’t work for me because I’ll forget to do it.
The half-assed approach to figuring out what works
If you’ve wandered off and bought yourself a planner, chances are it came with inserts already. Use them for a few weeks- if they start on Jan 1, 2016, then see if you can find some free, similar looking ones online for this year and print the last weeks of December out and use them. You’ll figure out pretty quickly what works for you, and what turns you into a rage monster. That way, if that system fails, you go out to buy something better knowing what works for you.